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A Letter from Tina Brown

By Tina Brown on April 29, 2020

Dear friends, participants, and supporters,

I hope you are staying healthy and resilient in these very dark times. We appreciate how all of you, as well as our colleagues and families, have helped sustain us through this crisis. The turmoil, as you know so well, has created convulsions in business whose effect has been widespread as well as tragedy in human lives. Earlier this spring, Women in the World’s 2020 Summit had been poised to present more than 100 women of consequence in thirty stage conversations before the march of COVID shut us down.

Now we must share more painful news. Despite the global reach and impact of our work over the last decade, the fallout from the pandemic has made it impossible to sustain our small margin enterprise.

All of you have played such an important part through the past ten years of enthralling storytelling and breaking open critical gender issues. Women in the World grew into a powerful global community of activists, business, and political leaders, artists, writers, journalists, and thought leaders.  A reminder of the impact of their testimony at the Tenth Anniversary Women in the World Summit in 2019 can be seen here. We thank you for your commitment, inspiration, loyalty, and partnership over the past decade.

  Our first summit was held on a stormy March weekend in a small Midtown theater with an audience of 250 word-of-mouth believers. We coined the term “live journalism” because we brought to the stage the stories and the issues uniquely experienced by women, stories unearthed by a team of journalists and producers led throughout the decade by Founding Managing Editor and Executive Producer Kyle Gibson. Women in the World was often ahead of the news curve, with first-person narratives exposing America’s own cultural and institutional fissures, including the rise of maternal mortality, the trafficking of young girls, and the use of NDAs to hide discrimination and assault. Our guests further bore witness to pressing issues all over the world: the genocide of the Rohingya in Burma; the rampant femicide in Central America; the mistreatment of refugees on Nauru and Manus in Australia; the long-term challenges facing the women of the Arab Spring; the failure of rule of law for Dalit women in India; the disappearance of indigenous women in Canada; the misogyny in Italy’s legal and political systems; and the enslavement of the Yazidis by ISIS.  In one of the memorable moments that so often characterized Women in the World, Saudi exile Manal al-Sharif asked the nearly three thousand members of the audience to show their support for the oppressed women of her homeland by shaking their keys…resulting in a thrilling rattling that filled the theater in spine-chilling waves.

  The annual summit combined journalistic discovery with theatrical production values. We deployed powerful videos, changes of pace, and pointed elements of performance that always illuminated a story and an issue – the Cambodian dancer rescued while foraging at a dump near Phnom Penh, the American ballerina adopted from a war orphanage in Sierra Leone, and the slam poet who grew up homeless in California. Lincoln Center became Women in the World’s annual home and, with the added skills of Broadway director Leonard Foglia, provided the standard of presentation our phenomenal stage guests deserved. The 2,500-seat theater was always sold-out, with tens of thousands more watching live online and hundreds of thousands engaging on social media. As our success grew, thanks to the unflagging support of our committed sponsors and the dynamic work of our CRO/VP Strategic Partnerships Marisa Fariña and General Manager/EICP Lorena Mann, we took Women in the World on the road to London, Toronto, San Paolo, Delhi, and Dubai, and produced salons in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Chicago, Dallas, and San Antonio. In 2019, we launched the Women in the World Film Festival with IFC Center.

Over the last decade, Women in the World hosted a remarkable list of  women of substance, some of whom include: Oprah Winfrey, Christine Lagarde, Meryl Streep, Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, former United States Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice, Jordan’s Queen Rania, Germany’s Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, United States Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, International Monetary Fund’s Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, Afghanistan’s First Lady Rula Ghani, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May, Ireland’s President Mary Robinson, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon,  United States Ambassador for Women’s Global Affairs Melanne Verveer and her successor Ambassador Catherine Russell, United States President Barack Obama’s Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, Nigeria’s Former Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Kosovo’s President Atifete Jahjaga, Rwanda’s Ambassador to the United States Mathilde Mukantabana, United States Senators Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, former United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former United States Homeland Security Secretaries Frances Townsend and Janet Napolitano, Italy’s President of the Chamber of Deputies Laura Boldrini, Georgia’s gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, climate-change diplomat Christiana Figueres, former United States Attorney General Sally Yates, United Nations Women Chiefs Michelle Bachelet and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Ambassadors Nikki Haley, Susan Rice and Samantha Power, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman, Scotland’s former Member of Parliament Ruth Davidson, former First Lady of the United States Laura Bush, former First Lady of the United Kingdom Cherie Blaire, former Second Lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden, America’s labor leader Dolores Huerta, Kentucky’s senatorial candidate Amy McGrath, Texas’ civil rights activist Rosie Castro, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, Sweden’s former Deputy Prime Minister Margot Wallström, former United States Ambassadors Anne Patterson and Deborah K. Jones, former United States State Department Official Cheryl Mills, Iñupiat Eskimo climate-change activist Patricia Cochran, Haiti’s Ambassador for Women Danielle Saint-Lot, Burma’s long-imprisoned political dissident Zin Mar Aung, and former congresswoman Jane Harman.

Among other legends of arts and culture who appeared on our stage: Ava DuVernay, Margaret Atwood, Helen Mirren, Queen Latifah, Isabel Allende, Anna Wintour, Nicole Kidman, Viola Davis, Barbra Streisand, Angelina Jolie, Kerry Washington, Pussy Riot, Angélique Kidjo, Cate Blanchett, Diane von Furstenberg, Sally Quinn, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Mary Beard, Misty Copeland, Holland Taylor, Glenda Jackson, Sheila Nevins, Freida Pinto, Nora Ephron, Mira Nair, Marti Noxon, Sarah Jones, Ashley Judd, Sherrie Silver, Michaela DePrince, Brittney Cooper, Rebecca Traister, Jill and Faith Soloway, Rosamund Pike, Mira Sorvino, Eva Longoria, Rashida Jones, Brie Larson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Sarah Silverman and Rabbi Susan Silverman, Anchee Min, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Adwoa Aboah, America Ferrera, Jillian Mercado, Cristina Mittermeier, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Julianna Margulies, Julie Taymor, Robin Wright, Samantha Bee, Scarlett Johansson, Anna Netrebko, Archie Panjabi, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Marcia Gay Harden, Jenna Bush Hager, Phiona Mutesi, The Syncopated Ladies, Yara Shahidi, Amanda Gorman, Marquesha Babers, Padma Lakshmi, Ambra Gutierrez, The Manhattan Girls Chorus, Wanda Sykes, Judy Gold, Cameron Esposito, and Jenny Hagel.

It has also been our honor to have brought to our stage some of the most consequential women in business, non-profits, and philanthropy: Melinda Gates, Laurene Powell Jobs, Arianna Huffington, Mellody Hobson, Zhang Xin, Anne Finucane, Indra Nooyi, Dambisa Moyo, Sallie Krawcheck, Meredith Levien, Padmasree Warrior, Amy Pascal, Nina Shaw, Susan Wojcicki, Martine Rothblatt, Laura Wasser, Dina Powell, Roz Brewer, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Lauren Zalaznick, Alyse Nelson, Ai-jen Poo, Minyon Moore, Ann Tisch, Edna Adan, Saru Jayaraman, Barbara Bush Jr., Christy Turlington Burns, Lorena Chambers, Cindy McCain, Kakenya Ntaiya, Sally Hazelgrove, Lauren Bush Lauren, Hafsat Abiola, Carmen Perez, Elizabeth Nyamayaro, Catherine Meyer, Dr. Jane Aronson, Ertharin Cousin, Swanee Hunt, Cecile Richards, Judith Rodin, Malika Saada Saar, Sandra Uwiringiyimana, Kathy Bushkin, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Jo Ann Jenkins, Miki Tsusaka, Carolyn Tastad, Jennifer Rademaker, Paula Polito, Fiona Carter, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, Jacqueline Novogratz, Lady Helena Morrissey, Sara Blakely, Diana Taylor, Audrey Gelman, Jill Iscol, Chelsea Clinton, Bozoma Saint John, and the indomitable young heroes and leaders of Girl Rising. We proudly add to this list our twenty-three “Mothers of Invention” – previously unrecognized social innovators whom we found, invited to our stage, and turbo-charged their funding and profiles worldwide.

Many of the most memorable storytellers were relatively unknown when they first appeared at Women in the World; later, they would credit the summit with helping to bring global attention – and donors – to their work. Three of our stage guests, Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, and Yazidi genocide survivor Nadia Murad, all went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Hawa Abdi, who achieved global renown at our summit for creating a haven for war refugees, also went on to be nominated for a Nobel.  Many other havens for women and girls benefited from the summit spotlight, including Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe’s sanctuary in Uganda for traumatized former girl soldiers, Sunitha Krishnan’s refuge in India for trafficking victims, and Andeisha Farid’s orphanage in Afghanistan. Pakistani documentarian Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who brought to our attention the murderous code of honor among men in her country, eventually won two Academy Awards. And last year, a few months after appearing on our stage to talk about the ethnic cleansing of Chinese Muslims including her own family, Gulchehra Hoja was recognized with the Magnitsky Award for Human Rights.

War correspondents, photographers, documentarians, top journalists and editors shared personal stories about the danger of frontline reporting as well as the perils of speaking truth to power: India’s Barkha Dutt and Shoma Chaudhury, Mexico’s Lydia Cacho, Iran’s Masih Alinejad, America’s Jill Abramson, Lynsey Addario, Eliza Griswold, Nima Elbagir, Clarissa Ward, Asra Nomani, Janine di Giovanni, Tania Rashid, Louise Roug, and Maggie Haberman, Saudi documentarian Safa Al Ahmad, Turkey’s Ece Temelkuran and Elif Shafak, Russia’s Masha Gessen, Britain’s Nina Lakhani, Deeyah Khan, Carrie Gracie and Carole Caldwalladr, Pakistan’s Samar Minallah and Fatima Bhutto, Yemen’s Tawakkol Karman, China’s Nanfu Wang, and the Philippines’ Maria Ressa. Leading newswomen and other acclaimed interviewers expertly moderated our often complex sessions, among them Norah O’Donnell, Christiane Amanpour, Juju Chang, Andrea Mitchell, Margaret Brennan, Robin Roberts, Katie Couric, Lesley Stahl, Barbara Walters, Katy Tur, Kara Swisher, Deborah Roberts, Cynthia McFadden, Diane Sawyer, Mika Brzezinski, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, Marie Brenner, Joanna Coles, Savannah Guthrie, Martha Raddatz, Mary Jordan, Jane Spencer, Maria Hinojosa, Susan Lyne, Stephanie Ruhle, Gillian Tett, Zainab Salbi, Gretchen Carlson, Pat Mitchell, Carmen Rita Wong, Barbie Latza Nadeau, Alex Witt, Bianna Golodryga, Perri Peltz, Alicia Menendez, Maria Bartiromo, Rula Jebreal, Michelle Goldberg, Joy-Ann Reid, Katty Kay, Sheryl WuDunn, Stephanie Mehta, Amanda Foreman, Cynthia Leive, Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani, Janet Mock, Antonia Hylton, Soledad O’Brien, Dr. Jennifer Ashton, Brooke Baldwin, Lydia Polgreen, Poppy Harlow, Kathy Lette, Elaine Welteroth, Sara Sidner, Athena Jones, Alyssa Mastromonaco, Renée Montagne, Campbell Brown, Radhika Jones, and Alison Stewart.

Women in the World was always welcoming to feminist men. Impressive champions who worked alongside us included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Nicholas Kristof, Ronan Farrow, David Milliband, President Jimmy Carter, Jon Stewart, Terry Crews, Jon Krakauer, Marc Pritchard, David Remnick, Fareed Zakaria, Darren Walker, John Avlon, Aamir Khan, Richard Haass, Kennedy Odede, Tom Hanks, Ajay Banga, Niall Ferguson, John Prendergast, Rupert Everett, Bryan Cranston, Garry Kasparov, Simon Schama, Ken Frazier, Ken Burns, Andrew Sullivan, André Leon Talley, and Thomas Friedman.

Running through every Women in the World summit was the theme of moral courage. There was Israeli Robi Damelin and Palestinian Bushra Awad, two mothers who joined forces as peace activists after each losing a son to the conflict. There was Nigeria’s Obiageli Ezekwesili, leader of the years-long public vigil for the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. There was Yeonmi Park, the young woman who escaped North Korea and has since risked her life by campaigning for human rights in her homeland. And so many more profiles in courage: Dr. Rola Hallam and Dr. Annie Sparrow bore witness to the bombings, gassing, and bloodshed in Syria; Edit Schlaffer through her initiative Women Without Borders worked globally with parents, teachers and religious leaders to combat extremism; Molly Melching campaigned against female genital mutilation in Senegal and shared the harrowing testimony of a mother named Marietou who lost two little daughters to the regressive ritual. Many of our heroes also fought and continue to fight fearlessly on behalf of refugees: Australia’s sea captain Madeleine Habib rescued stranded migrants from the Mediterranean; Britain’s Liz Clegg filled her van with supplies and lived in Calais’s refugee camp ‘The Jungle.’ Another hero of the U.K., Jasvinder Sanghera, continues to expose and fight against forced marriage.  And in the U.S., firebrands Rebecca Heller and Layli Miller-Muro still wage endless legal battles for those seeking asylum and for America’s most vulnerable immigrants.

Among the most vivid exemplars of moral courage to appear at Women in the World: the Ukranian pop singer and anti-Russian activist Ruslana Lyzhychko captivating the audience inside the Koch Theater with her national anthem – just as she had sung it night after night before thousands of her fellow protesters in Maidan Square.

Penetrating calls for justice and freedom were another summit hallmark, notably Topeka Sam on behalf of incarcerated women in the United States, and Lina al-Hathloul, who urged us to remember her sister Loujain – a women’s rights activist imprisoned and tortured (still) in Saudi Arabia. South Carolina grandmother Felicia Sanders, whose son gave his life to save Felicia and her granddaughter in the Charleston church shooting, begged our audience through tears to remember: “We may have different skin colors, but we all bleed red.”

How sad it is to say goodbye now when there is still so much work to be done, but none of us will remain untouched by the women of courage who appeared on the Women in the World stage. They broke down doors and they reached out their hands. They are the authors of history and the inspiration to all of us. We are indebted to the path they forged with their fire and their flair. Onward, Sisters! We have never needed you more than now.

Best,

Tina Brown

Tina Brown

Founder and CEO, Women in the World